Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Lyons of Change

France may have reached the World Cup Final in 2006 but since then they have been in decline. Their league is even worse. Matthew Borg reports

If one had to look at the list of past champions within the French Ligue 1, one would see that Saint-Etienne are the most successful club in the country, with 10 league titles to their name. Marseille and FC Nantes Atlantique are joint-second on 8 titles, while next up are Olympique Lyon on 7. With the French football league running since the 1932/33 season, it would be suffice to reason that Lyon are amongst a host of clubs within the league that are steeped in history, be it past or present. Alas, that isn't the case; as all of Lyon's 7 titles have come, admittedly remarkably so, in the last 7 years.

It could have been worse, as Lyon could have also won the title in 2000/01, but finished 2nd in the title race to Nantes, losing out by just 4 points. And yet, it probably will become so by the end of the 2008/09 season, as Lyon are currently - ominously - 7 points ahead of their nearest rivals, Marseille, after just over a third of the season gone. If we take this into consideration, then Lyon would have won an even-more remarkable and unprecedented 8 consecutive league titles; a feat that has almost certainly never been matched in any European league, at least for a long time.

This is therefore a team that has dominated the French league to an unparalled extent for nearly the last decade. And, to make matters worse, this is often done with considerate ease; and an occasional change of coach does nothing to destablise the rhythm of the team. Lyon are so good that they even managed to win the league last season with possibly the worst coach in their history - the unfancied Alain Perrin, who had a terrible spell at Portsmouth FC in England in 2006, and often seemed clueless and fazed by the big occasion. Indeed, nearest rivals Bordeaux did make a title race last to the final day of the season, but then also capitulated when it mattered, losing their final match in order to give the league to Lyon on a silver plate (and a little bit more).

Lyon's success means that they are constantly in a league of their own when it comes to everything - competitions, players, youths; the works. A testament to their success comes in the form of selling off some of their best ever players to massive European clubs. Michael Essien left Lyon for Chelsea in 2005 for €40 million; Mohamadou Diarra headed to Real Madrid in a €26 million deal in 2006; Florent Malouda and Eric Abidal moved to Chelsea and Barcelona for €20 million and €15 million respectively in 2007. And who's not to say that French starlet Karim Benzema won't be on his way to Madrid or Barcelona for a similar fee come 2009? All Lyon will then have to do is find another starlet with bundles of potential - Kim Kallstrom being a great example - and subsequently nurture him until he becomes a superstar. They've done it before, and it's reaped it's rewards, and they'll do it again.

These sales have hence left Lyon in a stable financial situation; as they also know that they don't really have to break the bank in order to ensure that they win their league. However, when it comes to the Champions League, one believes that this is the case. But what already-established superstar would want to move to Lyon in order to play in a league that, year after year, sees the odds on who is going to win the league at the beginning of the season tumble even further? This is the reason why Lyon will never really seem to be a credible Champions League outfit. Indeed, however, Lyon might be dominating this era, and their domination - based on financial stability - could see them further dominate the French game for years to come.

God Bless You all!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Many a time, it's those singular words that mean so much to a multitude of people. One word can potentially have a thousand definitions - for example, to us, God is the ultimate, everlasting authority in our lives, but to other people, God might be a deity, a Buddha, or, indeed, before I discovered Him, even Jose Mourinho (scarily enough). It's a case of words being subject to interpretation in all cases.

Hence the reason why I think 'change' can also fall into this category. In our everyday lives, when we speak of change, we often refer to receiving the remnants of the money that we regularly spend, or even giving away these remnants simply because they're a massive inconvenience. Most of us think in that manner as it is the most easily applicable theory. Many also see 'change' as a political slogan, such as that that US President-elect Barack Obama used in the recent White House elections, as well as that that the Malta Labour Party is currently promoting itself under. However, how many people have ever thought of the concept of change in terms of ourselves and our attitudes towards God and our faith? What can we do if the way how we perceive our relationship with the living Christ is stale, or if we feel distant from God?

The answer is simple: we have to pray. Through this, the following will happen, as listed in the Scripture:

The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. - 1 Samuel 10:6

One might easily state that it's simple to pray to the Lord: just say an Our Father, a Hail Mary and an occasional Glory Be, and everything is done and dusted. However, although God hears all prayers, no matter how short, quick or detailed they might be, I feel that there has to be a certain purpose within that prayer itself for it to be truly effective. One cannot pray just for the sake of praying, as that defeats the purpose of entering into communication with God in the first place. One might also argue that if his/her relationship with God is stale, or if they feel distant from God, then how can they take heed of such advice, i.e. simply to pray? Here, I believe that personal experiences from other people should also come into play - testimonies could be used to show that the power of prayer does indeed change people into different ones to the ones that they previously were.

The Bible also tells us that if we constantly sin, then it is also best that we change our ways, for there could be severe consequences:

Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings the darkness, before your feet stumble on the darkening hills. You hope for light, but he will turn it to thick darkness and change it to deep gloom. - Jeremiah 13:16

No one is perfect in life, and, indeed, we all do sin, but we have to be man enough to realise that when we do so, we should own up and confess that that we did. If we don't, we will continue to stumble, as it states in Jeremiah, to the point where there literally will be no return. If we continue to sin but realise that it is too late to rectify that that we've done, then we will continue to fall into the abyss. However, this doesn't mean that the 'deep gloom' that we will pass through cannot be forgiven, for our God is an ever-forgiving God and an ever-loving God, and welcomes back everyone into His Kingdom with open arms, even though He doesn't need to. Therefore, this is another reason why we need to take the notion of change seriously, as otherwise, there is a real possibility that we will not end up in God's Kingdom at the end of the day, and that will definitely be the point of no return.

The notion of change is something that is therefore omnipresent. We have to subject ourselves to change in order to understand and appreciate the full glory of God, and perhaps, even more difficult than this, we have to be ready to subject ourselves to this change if we want to enter into a meaningful and blossoming relationship with the Father. The road towards salvation is never a straight path, but it is tight and twisty, narrow and often very bumpy. This is what models us into becoming good Christians.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. - Matthew 7:13-14

God Bless You All!

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